In what many called a stunning upset, three Long Beach Democrats who challenged the incumbent City Council slate swept Tuesday’s Democratic primary by a wide margin, in a race that was described as a referendum on the city administration and leadership.
Challengers Liz Treston, Karen McInnis and Ron Paganini campaigned as part of a group called the New Wave Dems, and defeated incumbent City Council President Anthony Eramo and Vice President Chumi Diamond.
The challengers announced the win just before 10 p.m. According to the Nassau County Board of Elections, with all 24 precincts reporting, Treston received 1,613 votes, while Paganini and McInnis had 1,465 and 1,454, respectively. Eramo had 502 votes and Diamond, 486, while their running mate, former investigative journalist Jim Mulvaney, received 679. Resident Tim Kramer, who was seeking election independently as a Democrat, collected 540.
“We stand in awe of the support we received from the residents of Long Beach, and thank them for entrusting us with their vote,” the winners said in a joint statement. “This election was a clear mandate for change in our city. We thank each of the other candidates for stepping up in service. This is a difficult process and they all deserve our respect for putting themselves on the line. It’s our hope they remained engaged in the process of turning our city around.”
Treston, a community advocate and the chairwoman of the Long Beach Community Organizations Active in Disasters; McInnis, a financial executive; and Paganini, a retired city worker and former union leader, will now run for three open seats in the general election. Councilwoman Anissa Moore, a Democrat who is up for re-election this year, is running on the Republican line as part of a coalition ticket in November with candidates Mike Delury, a Democrat, and Lauren Doddato-Goldman, a Republican.
Despite the early backing from the Nassau County Democratic Party and its chairman, Jay Jacobs, as well as the Long Island Federation of Labor and County Executive Laura Curran, the incumbents lost in most voting districts.
“You had a lot of wildcards,” said Steve Kohut, a lifelong Long Beach resident who is involved in local Democratic politics. “I think it’s a clear statement that people in town who came out to vote — and it was still a small turnout — voiced their displeasure with the administration. Every election, whether it’s a general election or a primary, is a mandate on the administration, and that’s what you have here, and people were not happy.”
Eramo said he remained proud of the city’s record of accomplishments. “I’m proud of my record and the campaign we ran,” he said on Wednesday. “I love our city, and I only want the best for it.”
Diamond told Newsday that she would continue to work to move the city forward.
The vote came at a time when Long Beach Democrats are divided. In January, the State Legislature passed a series of voting reforms that consolidated federal and state primaries in June instead of September. That means that Eramo and Diamond will retain their seats until Jan. 1.
“We never had this in Long Beach because the primaries were in September,” Kohut said. “You’re looking at uncharted waters — you have six months of two lame ducks.”
On Wednesday, council members John Bendo, Scott Mandel and Moore, all Democrats, sent an email to Acting City Manager Rob Agostisi that called for maintaining “the status quo,” including no new hiring or firing; no promotions or demotions; no moving of exempt, or non-union, employees into union positions; and no separation payments, aside from contractual obligations, without council approval.
Eramo and Diamond had campaigned on the city’s record of accomplishments since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, citing a number of infrastructure projects, including the rebuilding of the boardwalk, the recent completion of the Army Corps of Engineers’ coastal protection project, and work to shore up the north side of the city with bulkheads and other resiliency measures.
Nonetheless, a fiscal crisis and two consecutive tax increases, totaling 16 percent, over the past two years proved unpopular, a number of residents said. Many had also criticized the council for not hiring a permanent city manager since the departure of former City Manager Jack Schnirman, who was elected county comptroller in 2017. Tuesday’s election also came on the heels of an E. coli alert last Friday, which was lifted on Monday. Kohut said he did not believe the alert had a significant impact on the election, theorizing that voter turnout was low due to the primary’s early date.
“Just from a historical perspective, if the water crisis was that significant, I think you would have had a larger turnout,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Nassau Board of Elections, however, said there was a solid turnout in Long Beach, with 21.4 percent of registered Democrats voting in the primary.
Throughout their campaign, McInnis, Paganini and Treston criticized city officials for their handling of the city’s finances, tax increases, management practices, what they described as a lack of transparency and other issues. Long Beach remains in “significant” fiscal stress for the second year in a row, according to State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office, and Moody’s Investors Service recently downgraded the city’s credit rating to near junk bond status.
Additionally, DiNapoli's office and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas are investigating whether separation payouts made to employees in 2017 — including a $108,000 payment to Schnirman — were proper. Many residents, the challengers said, were calling for change at City Hall.
“Long Beach wins tonight,” McInnis told the Herald.